VETERANS DAY 2016
Submarine service good training for VFW post commander Sandridge
By William F. West
Monday, April 30, 2018
Want to know what it was like to have served on board a Navy submarine in the midst of the Cold War?
Ask Ken Sandridge, 50, who served 22 years in uniform, all based out of Norfolk, Va. He's commander of the Elizabeth City-based Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 6060.
Sandridge was trained to fix and maintain equipment on submarines. He described being on board a submerged warship as like sharing space with 150 people in a house with the windows shut and breathing recycled air.
“So, there is no place that you can be absolutely alone, except in your own bed,” he said. “About the only thing that you have to isolate you is a little, thin blue curtain, but that seems like it was enough to get you by.”
He said the comradeship is “indescribable,” with no differences based on the backgrounds and races of shipmates. He said there would be slight disagreements, but not to the point of one becoming fighting mad.
Sandridge was offering his recollections in advance of Veterans Day.
He began serving in the Navy a few years after President Reagan called the then-Soviet Union “the evil empire.” He recalled being at sea knowing the Russians were out there somewhere at all times.
“You ate and slept it and you breathed it, the fight against the enemy,” he said.
Sandridge emphasized the importance of remaining undetected by the then-Soviet Navy. “We would never surface where we didn't want to be seen,” he said.
In fact, he said, every door on board the submarines where he served had a sign reading, “Silence is our friend and noise is our enemy” or some other catchy phrase.
Standard procedures, he said, included wearing tennis shoes, never slamming doors shut and using toilets whose seats had pieces of attached foam to help ensure quiet.
Citing security reasons, he said that he cannot be too specific about what went on out at sea but that, “It's no secret that we tracked them (Soviets) and they tracked us.”
“I've heard propeller noises through the hull before,” he recalled with a laugh.
Sandridge lived in Redding, Pa., until he was 12, when he and his family moved to West Virginia. He was 17 when he joined the Navy.
He recalled patriotism being at a high point when he signed his name on the dotted line and also cited his family's military service as factors in joining the Navy.
His father had served in the Marines and two uncles had served in the Army. One of the uncles, who served in the Korean War, received a Purple Heart.
During the latter part of his service in the Navy, Sandridge specialized in the management end of submarine repairs.
After completing his service in 2006, he started working for the federal government, in quality control in overseeing shipbuilding contracts in Newport News, Va.
He presently is the submarine repair officer for the supervisor of shipbuilding. He commutes from the Harbor of Hospitality to the Hampton Roads area.
Sandridge became VFW 6060 commander in June and he estimates the post has more than 350 members. His wife, Monica, is the post's quartermaster.
Asked what Veterans Day is going to mean for him as the post's new leader, he said, “A lot more responsibility.”
“It's not really the pressure of just how VFW 6060 looks in our presentation,” he said.
Rather, he said, “When we're actually in charge of the event, you don't want to let every veteran down, because you feel like you're representing all of them.”
Asked what he enjoys about being the post's leader, he said speaking with the veterans of World War II and the Korean War.
“They are just pistols – so many stories, such a great attitude and outlook on life,” he said. “It's almost like they can't see anything worse. So, they have this attitude like, 'You can't hurt me. I'm just happy go lucky.'”
Sandridge was asked whether he's concerned for the nation and those serving in uniform, given numerous protests nationwide, the heated presidential election and those enemies worldwide who want to do America in.
“I've got to be honest: I'm not concerned for them anymore than I ever was, because it just seems to me like every era has had its own problems,” he said. “And it just seems like there's a common thread to every one of 'em.”
Sandridge said that he certainly listens to what's going on and has his own set of ideals. “As far as veterans are concerned, I just try to take care of the things that I can reach out and touch, because I'm sure of that action.”
As for veterans as a whole, he said he believes every one of them is unique. “Everybody is a patriot for their own reasons. I just think the common thread is the love of their country.”
Speaking for himself as a veteran, he said, “I personally get teared up when I hear taps.”
Sandridge recalled his days of standing at attention and hearing the National Anthem while on duty in the mornings on shore. He said that he wouldn't cry, but that his eyes would become teary because he would think about those who became the victims of Pearl Harbor of Dec. 7, 1941.
“And all of a sudden they're dying and they don't even know what's going on, fighting for that flag,” he said.
On the positive side, Sandridge also thinks about the iconic press photo of the American flag being raised by the Marines on Feb. 23, 1945, in the midst of the Battle of Iwo Jima.
He also said that, today, he believes the flag is special for people trapped in totalitarian nations such as Cuba and North Korea yet who know something about America and who want to come here.
In fact, he said some of his friends are of those of foreign descent who became first-generation U.S. citizens. “And they're the most staunch Americans you ever want to meet. They are all about what we're about,” he said.